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Everyone dreams of their first EPT and everyone dreams of their first hand. They want a monster to kick the whole thing off and they want a trophy and hundreds of thousands of dollars by the end.

For Alexsander Ivanchenko, things really couldn’t have got off to a better start.

It was the third hand he had seen in his first ever live tournament, and his pocket queens matched rather nicely with the flop of 9-Q-7. The turn was another seven and all the money flew into the middle. His queens over sevens beat his opponents’ sevens over nines (that foe had 9-7 in the hole). Ivanchenko was chip leader with 67,000 and it would have been an utterly unbelievable start for anyone other than this man — he had been on the mother of all heaters just to get here.


Alexsander Ivanchenko

Yesterday we speculated that Leo Fernandez must have travelled the furthest to arrive in Kyiv from his home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. But in purely poker terms, Ivanchenko’s journey is impossible to better. He won a 9,000 player freeroll on PokerStars, in association with Maxim magazine, spread over three qualifying rounds and offering one seat at the end. The first round took them from 9,000 to 80 over six hours; the second from 109 to two in a similar time; the third from six to one and the winners’ package: a trip to Kyiv and a seat at the EPT.

He’s here for absolutely nothing further than a password in a magazine, an impressively long grind at the PokerStars tables, and a generous prize package. “First, I just want to say that PokerStars is great,” Invanchenko said, in the kind of start to a brief interview that makes blog posts much easier to write.

But the story doesn’t even end there, so let’s add a further level of interest. Ivanchenko, a 29-year-old air conditioning engineer, did all this qualifying from his home town in Aktobe, Kazakhstan. During day 1b, he was approached in Kyiv from representatives of a fledgling poker association from Almaty, informing him that he was the first player from Kazakhstan to appear in an EPT field. In common with Russia and some other CIS countries, poker currently can’t be played in Kazakhstan, but Ivanchenko’s appearance here could help to promote the game back home. He’s on the road to becoming something of a celebrity.

This is all the more amazing for his humble origins. Ivanchenko has played poker for precisely one year — “I started in August 2008 and today it is August 2009,” he said — and his regular online game is $2 or $4 sit and goes, or qualification satellites for the Sunday majors. It’s a long, long way from there to this €5,000 buy in tournament, with close to €330,000 first prize.

Ivanchenko has dared to dream of it, saying he’ll definitely begin travelling a lot more if he wins some money here. And when you’ve already come this far, a few more miles, or another 200 players, must seem like nothing at all.

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Jeff Sarwer, from Canada, is through the 200,000 barrier. He has about 250,000.

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“He was insulting me! He said I was from a village, or something like that…”

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